SebastianKErben

SebastianKErben

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Posts by SebastianKErben

Persona 5 – Review

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After 90 hours of Persona 5 I am still not quite finished with the game, but I feel like I am near enough the end to finally deliver my review on this game. The review has been a long time coming now and I am a little bit sour that it took so long; but better late than never, right? So let’s start.

 

 

Back in the old SNES days, JRPGs were some of my favourite genres. After all, Secret of Mana was the game that brought me to game development in general and spawned my interest in programming. You could say my whole “career” started with the words “DARKNESS SWEEPS THE TROUBLED LAND, …”. But later on, I lost interest in most of them. Among the JRPGs I started but never finished were Final Fantasy X, Lost Odyseey, Blue Dragon, Tales of Symphonia, Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XV and even the wonderful Ni No Kuni. But I kept coming back to Persona 5 even after weeks of not playing it due to shortages of free time and the thought of not finishing it never crossed my mind once which is partly due to the fact that the art style of this game fulfills a very important function that most JRPGs lack: it makes the menus and the way the game is to be played easy to remember. That is the first of many strengths of the game and I can’t stress enough how important this is. Regardless how little I remembered about my last steps in the game after a longer period of time, the menu navigation was always an anchor point that I could use to get back into the game and in this regard Persona 5 really changed my perception of UI design. I knew that P5 would be a very stylish game before thanks to all the trailers, but I didn’t expect to learn so much about a topic that before was merely an afterthought I wanted to minimize as much as possible in my own designs.

 

The style of the game also helps disguising the game’s PS3 origin although its technical simplicity becomes obvious if you look close enough. Thankfully this never became a concern and it speaks volumes about P5‘s ability to be regarded as a timeless classic that the overall style negates its technical debility already. The next thing I need to praise in volumes is its soundtrack which is absolutely stunning. The last time I was blown away by a game soundtrack was probably when Bayonetta got released but P5 easily tops it. Sometimes I would just lay the gamepad aside to listen for a very specific song. Overall the audiovisual design fascinated me so much that I’m using a Persona 5 style theme on my smartphone and every alarm sound is a song from the OST. And it’s great that the design is so good because otherwise the fights would probably get tiresome very quickly despite the fighting system being the best shot at turn based battle systems that I have seen so far. Now I know people might disagree on that and would prefer a more time based approach but I love the fact that I can really take my time in battles if I want to without pressure (well, most of the time; there are one or two exceptions to this in the whole

 

 

The overarching narrative of Persona 5 is that of a pupil being sued by someone for essentially stopping an imminent rape. The protagonist gets transferred to a different school for rehabilitation and this is when things slowly start to get weird as the protagonist awakes to the power of his Persona and starts changing the hearts of bad people. The game doesn’t start with that though; it actually starts at the last quarter of the game, the protagonist gets captured and interrogated and the interrogation itself is what the player experiences and plays through up until past and present sync back and the endgame starts. The structure of Persona 5‘s storytelling – at least as far as the main story is concerned – is to get a new “big” target. Those persons’ twisted desires have created palaces in the metaverse that the player needs to infiltrate, steal the treasure of the target and change the target’s heart by doing so. If this sounds complicated, let me break it down for you: you need to play through a dungeon and defeat the dungeons boss. The thing about those dungeons is that they must be completed until a certain deadline. Within this timeframe, you are pretty much free to spent your time as you want to. Don’t want to proceed the palace but instead go learning at the diner on a rainy day? Do it. Time management is one of the mechanics that I first thought would really annoy me; but I quickly figured out that it solves a problem for me that I often have with open world games or other games with loads of side activities: it keeps my focus in check. Most side activities cause one half of the day to pass, so you could fill one day with two side activities. Exploring a dungeon however will cause the whole day to pass. So if – for example – you want to go fishing at night (because it’s cheaper) you can’t go to the dungeon that day. The time management only gets more complex as you gather more and more confidants (more on that in a moment) that you want to build a relationship with in addition to the protagonist’s own skills that you want to enhance by taking part in certain activities. You can even lend DVDs to watch at home that you need to return within two weeks. That all might sound annoying but it really isn’t; it actually helps the player prioritizing instead of getting lost in all the possible activities.

 

It’s worth pointing out that the topics that Persona 5 attends to are often heavy. The game – as lighthearted as it can be at times – deals with sexual harassment, physical and psychological abuse, working conditions, drugs, blackmailing and even rabble-rousing and murder. Games are often a way to escape reality and the problems we face in reality for a bit, but while many games chose to offer a more abstract or even ridiculous way of relieving stress (sometimes even by building a different type of stress) Persona 5 lets the player stand against those real life problems, solving them with supernatural powers and even explains that bad people are not born bad but fall victim to their own desires which are often created by defining experiences in their past. It’s unusual to find this in a game and even though monologues and dialogues are mostly delivered in a very anime, over-the-top style, I feel like Persona 5 never falls flat on the severity of its topics.

 

Of course the protagonist doesn’t fight alone. You will meet a certain number of confidants – supporters if you will – that can roughly be seperated into two types: party members and supporting characters. Party members will fight with you, you can change their equipment, chose skills of their Persona when they level up and even tell them what to do in rush more – some sort of fast forward for easy fights. Supporting characters will sell you stuff or help you enhance your skills and while party members are not missable and tied to the main story, supporting characters can be missed. I know for a fact that I didn’t forge a bond with at least one confidant and another one I didn’t get until the last story dungeon (which means I played through the game without the ability to change fighting party members in-fight; yes, those kind of abilities can come with confidants). You can strengthen your bond with every confidant by spending time with them and with some you can even enter a love relationship (you can even have more than one love relationship at the same time) but it’s not always as easy as approaching a confidant and pressing a button. Sometimes they don’t have time for you, sometimes you need to reach a certain level with a skill (Angelic Kindness is till haunting me) which means you’ll first need to spend your time on activities increasing your skills like watching movies, reading books, caring about your plant or eating fast food (sic!). With all of that the game develops a totally different kind of dynamic compared to other JRPGs and it’s this dynamic that helps countering the problem of pacing that many games in the genre often have. It creates a nice back and forth between engaging exploration with frantic fighting and interesting interaction with NPCs and more mundane activities and although the beginning of the game is very slow, this slowness is what helps emphasise the drama once shit hits the fan and the wheels start to spin faster.

 

 

I already wrote that to me P5‘s fighting is the best iteration of turn based JRPG combat so far and that has a lot to do with the way Personas work. While other party members stick to one specific Persona, the protagonist can hold more than one and Personas are acquired by negotiating with enemy Personas, trying to recruit them. You will also learn the skill to fuse two (and later more) Personas into one new Persona and it’s this variety and freedom that truly brings Persona 5′s fighting system to life especially since the combinations of elemental strengths and weaknesses, passive skills, buffs and debuffs and other special abilities like drain and reflect create a complexity that I would consider good complexity. Many games introduce complexity to their mechanics just for the sake of having said complexity but in P5 this complexity is an optional toolset that is evolves naturally but can also be largely ignored if the player wants to pull through the game by brute force. It’s another way of keeping the fights interesting throughout the game.

 

All of this doesn’t mean P5 is a perfect game however. I already wrote how the game is technically a PS3 game but it doesn’t ran smoothly on my PS4 Pro all the time either. Hickups were rare but they did occur which seems strange. Also the game takes a bit to get up to speed and the beginning hours can feel sluggish. Probably my biggest point of criticism is the way the camera behaves when using the stealth mechanic. Being a phantom thief means you will sneak through the palaces and try to ambush enemies to get an advantage in combat. This advantage combined with clever execution on the enemies’ weaknesses is what enables the player to overcome enemies that are much stronger which feels great and empowering no matter how often you do it. On the other side, being ambushed by lower level enemies can quickly result in a game over if the weaknesses of your party are exploited. This happened to me 2 times in my whole playthrough but every time it made me stop playing the game. Not because I had lost but because the ambush was only possible due to the way the games’ stealth mechanic work. As long as you’re not detected by an enemy, you can go into stealth mode at specific points in the environment and you can also swiftly jump to new cover positions without being seen and also ambush enemies that come within reach. However, the camera tries to avoid solid obstacles, forcing you to try and get an enemy into your viewport and then hitting “X” to ambush. However, if the enemy turns in the meantime or the distance changes slightly you will ambush into the empty space right beneath the enemy and if you’re seen the enemy will likely ambush you faster than you can react. It’s weird because every other aspect of the game is so well polished.

 

 

Conclusion: 5 (on a -5 to 5 scale). I really had a hard time coming up with a score for Persona 5. I didn’t expect to play a game like Breath of the Wild that feels genre defining to me again so soon. And I certainly don’t want to be part of the score inflation of the recent decades although my review is merely an amateur one. But every time I picked up the gamepad to lead the Phantom Thieves to their next target, every time I chose to go learning at the diner for upcoming exams, every time I had to decide between multiple confidants asking for my time to discuss topics or simply spend time together I overdrew my videogame time limit; hard. I also know there are multiple positive points I wanted to address when I started writing this review but forgot by now; but it doesn’t matter. Persona 5 is the type of game you can enjoy on a hot summer evening with a cold Gin & Tonic as well as on a cold winter day with a cup of hot chocolate. It stole my heart, how could I not give it the best possible score?

ARMS – Review

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The genre of Fighting Games – which is not to be confused with Beat ’em Ups – can be tracked back to 1976 when SEGA released their game Heavyweight Champ. Nowadays, Fighting Games have become a wide field of competitive sensation that even got its own popular event every year called Evo that’s a profitable championship with tens of thousand viewers watching as pro Fighting Game players compete against each other in different games. Those game can get as technical as the long running Tekken series but can also be much less about combo crafting and more about tactical mind games like Nintendo‘s popular Smash Bros. series. The genre has grown a lot since the rivalry of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat and it’s terminology as well as the abstract ideas behind them can be quite intimidating for newcomers who want to get into them. ARMS tries to extract the core idea of Fighting Games and transform them into something more digestible without scaring off players familiar with the genre. Can it do to Fighting Games what Mario Kart did to Racing games? Let’s see…

 

 

The name ARMS could not be more fitting to this game that puts its fighters with their extendable arms front and center. The idea is to play a game of spacing and strategy, resulting in tactics born from action and reaction in a kind of rock, paper and scissors style. Punches can be blocked, blocks open an opportunity for throws and throws can be cancelled by punches, but there are almost always means to use those actions and trick your opponent; you could block for a prolonged time only to wait for your enemy to start a throw and then quickly punch them. This leads to many situations where the game quickly gets to its meta mechanics of risk and reward, trying to outplay your opponent with witty tactics and unpredictable behaviour. But that doesn’t mean skill is not involved. ARMS is a very dynamic game where composure can make all the difference in a close battle as you try to pull off actions as you intended and not starting to mash buttons (if playing with classic controls) or moving the JoyCons furiously (if playing with motion controls). Its also useful to have a general strategy, a battle plan, set up that you always can go back to. Such strategies would depend on the arena you are fighting in and the character of you opponent which means that knowledge of the game’s content will definitely come in handy and make you a better player. It’s worth noting that the motion controls work very well and while I prefer my sticks and buttons, this is definitely not Wii Sports Boxing 2!

 

 

ARMS‘s cast of characters consists of 10 different playable fighters that differ in weight, speed, special abilities, design and ARMS available from the start. Most of them are iconic and well designed, easily noticeable and will without doubt spawn interesting cosplay in the future. Like the characters in many other Fighting Games though, they lack deeper personality and so it’s difficult to see them as more than fancy tools that you want to get familiar with. Part of this is the lack of proper and interesting single player content, especially compared to something like Injustice 2‘s great campaign mode. The only reasons to keep playing the single player tournament is the AI – which is quite capable in the middle levels and is able to destroy you at the higher levels – as well as the fact that you need to beat the tournament at least on difficulty level 4 (of 7) to unlock the competitive ranked online mode. Other than that the only thing I got out of the mode so far are coins which you can also get by playing other modes like the online party mode where a lobby of up to 12 players will be thrown at each other in combat scenarios of 1vs1, 2vs2, 3vs3, 4vs4 or even player vs boss AI. The single player mode can be played cooperatively though which is a great way to ease your friends into the game! Combat modes range from classic fighting to target destruction, basketball (where your goal is to punch or throw your enemy in the basket) and volleyball. It’s a much more interesting and fun mode to learn about different ARMS and characters and to farm coins. And farming coins you will do. A lot. Every character starts with a set of 3 different ARMS that you can select from before every battle for your left and right arm separately. Those ARMS are mostly fine for learning the basics of each character but once you found your main character you will want to get more to broaden your selection and thus your strategic options. Acquiring them is done by playing a mini game in which you will need to destroy targets and once in a while get the chance to punch a box which will grant you a new ARM for one of the characters. This mini game can be played in a short, medium and long variant and playing them will cost you 30, 100 and 200 coins respectively.

 

 

The problem with that is this: not only are the ARMS itself random, the character they are for is randomly chosen as well (although the chance is increased to get an ARM for the character you’re playing the minigame with) which means you will spend a lot of coins to even unlock a complete set for the character you want. The number of ARMS you unlock is also tied somewhat to your performance in the minigame and also the maximum amount of boxes that will appear differ, which leads to the next problem: I have seen 3-4 ARM boxes in short, 8-11 in medium and 18-22 in long variants of the minigame. This means one ARM will cost you between 7.5 and 10 coins in short, 9 and 12.5 coins in medium and 9 and 11 in long variants (according to my own experience, other players may have different numbers). To me this means that the short variant is pretty much the best one which I also have to save up the least for and it overall reduces the danger of completely messing up because with one bad run, you only waste 30 coins instead of 100 or 200. To me, it’s not a good adaptation of the system used in Mario Kart 8 especially because you’re not exactly awash with coins. Technically the game is very solid, with great use of color and specular materials and it runs at a rock solid 60 frames per second which is absolutely key to such a fighting game; the exception is the 4 player splitscreen where the game has to compromise with 30 frames prer second but this mode is only good for casual party gaming anyway. The arenas are varied and the soundtrack is quite catchy but still not nearly as good as Mario Kart 8. The game’s mechancis work great and are a lot of fun to explore and apply and the depth of this game becomes apparent after the first few fights. It’s certainly the most unique fighting game available which says a lot when you have other fighting games that are brutal or cute, have Superheroes and -villains fighting each other as well as over the top Anime characters and even drawn stick men.

 

 

Conclusion: 2 (on a -5 to 5 scale). ARMS is one brilliant idea flawlessly executed but not backed up with a lot of content. Nintendo has already promised future free content updates and the first new character is about to be released, probably with a new stage as well since every character has its own signature stage. The unlocking mechanic is something that I feel holds ARMS back although it means to keep players engaged. We will see if ARMS has some legs through its updates (like Splatoon) and I hope it will get enough attention from the fighting game community so this can become a returning franchise for Nintendo. Right now its a great game to enthrall new players interested in the genre but only features enough to keep veterans around. It gets better with every hour played but probably loses a lot of players in the process. It’s like a very tasty sausage, cut down at both ends.

My E3 findings

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I originally planned to do some step-by-step recap of the E3 conferences, with ratings and stuff. But after Void’s wonderful postings for each show and FireFish’s great (if not exactly mine) opionions (which you can read HERE) I decided to go for a more loose and essay-like recap and what I took away after some days of digesting, dislodging from imminent hype and getting things straight for myself. Let’s go, shall we?

 

Microsoft is trying to catch up…

I think no one watching the Microsoft show got a feeling of confidence from this company that managed to lose the goodwill and following of many million players of the 360 era in merely 12 months. Microsoft has since been unsteady in its decisions regarding the XBox and this was more obvious than ever at this year’s E3 show. It knows the PS4 managed to pull ahead immediately because many player’s (like myself) just wouldn’t buy a less powerful console for $100 more. They thought Kinect and TV functionality would be great technical investments and were all wrong about it. Now they announced what will be the most powerful console on the market but are again $100 more than the PS4 Pro while the redesigned XBox One S and PS4 Slim are sitting comfortably on mass market pricing. They also lost a lot of exclusivity deals with 3rd party developers and because their 1st party output is not even close to what SONY and Nintendo can do (and are doing) they decided to show just a load of games (many of them Indie and AA games) with some sort of exclusivity while trying to emphasize on the message that multiplatform games will look best on XBox One X.

 

…but they are still failing.

The problem with all of that is this: the 3rd party games shown don’t compete with the high production value exclusive games of SONY nor do they look as exciting gameplay wise as the exclusive games of Nintendo. They exist and that’s just not enough. Microsoft is also running into a problem with the XBox One X’s performance. While it manages to have 50% more GPU performance, the CPU is built upon the same bad architecture that PS4, PS4 Pro and XBox One (S) are based on. What does this mean? It means that while 3rd party games may be able to pull of a true 4k instead of lower resolution or checkerboard rendering of the PS4 Pro the results simply won’t be noticeable most of the time. The CPU is just not powerful enough for a 100% framerate increase compared to the PS4 Pro which means you will indeed get similar results in the end. The only games that normally profit from such a supererogation are 1st party exclusives that are built specifically for the platform – of which the XBox One X just doesn’t have that much. Forza 7 in 4k at 60 fps sure does look and will play impressive but a racing game alone won’t sell the console. That’s why Microsoft was trying to explain that any XBox One title will benefit from the performance because XBox One X will render them automatically at a higher resolution. That’s great but honestly no reason even for 4k TV owners like myself to pay $500. What’s also great is the cooling and form factor but I am being honest here: my XBox One S is the slickest and quietest modern console I have ever owned. The XBox One X may be even slicker and quieter but even I as someone who gets bothered by cooling noise easily (why, SONY, does the PS4 Pro need to be so noisy sometimes?) doubt the XBox One X will be a significant improvement over the XBox One S. And so I just cancelled my preorder of the XBox One X. Just now as I am writing these lines. Yup, Cancelled. What Microsoft needs to do is to heavily market the XBox One S as well. That’s a console you can get for $200 to play games like Forza, Gears of War, Halo, State of Decay, Sea of Thieves, etc. if you’re interested in them and don’t want to bother yourself with Windows 10 PC gaming. What Microsoft also needs to do is get some AAA high quality exclusive games again. Not timed exclusives and not with some exclusive content. They are doing a lot right in terms of coss buy (with Windows 10) and cross play (with Switch and Smartphones even), backwards compatibility (how much I wish I could just pop in my PS3 copies of Ni No Kuni and the Metal Gear Solid collection in my PS4), development tool quality and their id@XBox program. But if they really want to be a worthy contender to SONY again, they need to up their game (pun intended) and start getting those heavy hits in.

 

SONY is trying to deliver…

SONY’s show was pretty much what I expected. Many gamers are a bit frustrated because of the great E3s of 2015 and 2016 but here’s the catch: both years SONY announced a lot of titles that are far far away. It’s like a mortage for hype and SONY knows which is why they were focusing on stuff that comes out this year and next year. And that stuff has been announced already. Last of Us 2 is still very early in production and preparing an E3 showing does cost a lot of time and money which Naughty Dog already invested in Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. But PS4 is still a great primary platform for gaming with full 3rd party support and a lot of high budget AAA productions. They also try to push VR further (which is completely uninteresting to me at the moment) but they need to keep that going. It felt a little bit like when 3D and the Vita sections started to shrink. I hope I am wrong because VR could get really interesting to me with the next generation of hardware and the experience developers will have earned with VR by then.

 

…but needs to be careful with that rising arrogance.

I feel like SONY should focus more on features that are not only for the majority of gamers. Being able to change the PSN nickname is a feature that people are demanding for years now, backwards compatibility is another. SONY also tries to explain why they wouldn’t allow cross play with other platforms than the PC with reasons of protecting kids which is insane considering both XBox Live and Nintendo are far more protective than Steam or PSN itself (on Xbox One you can set exactly what your kids can play, how they can interact online – on PS4 it’s just all or nothing). Everyone is aware that SONY just doesn’t want the competition to profit from their big PS4 playerbase. That’s nasty and not exactly for the players, but it’s reasonable from a business point of view. Just don’t pretend you have your own player’s well being in mind when that’s clearly not the case. At least be honest so it won’t be as comical when you should need to make some exceptions in the future (because your version of Minecraft will be worst because every other platform – including Nintendo Switch! – is connected and DLC will work across all of them as well).

 

Nintendo learned a thing or two from SONY…

“How to win an E3 in 25 minutes” has already become kind of a meme. Nintendo’s show – 3 months after the Switch’s release – was decent with Xenoblade 2 and Mario Odyseey releasing this year and Yoshi and Kirby coming 2018. But what really excited many fans was a logo and some spoken announcement. Metroid Prime 4 and a main Pokemon game are both coming for the Switch. No one knows when exactly, but they are coming. Nintendo took a page out of SONY’s playbook here because those kind of announcements are very unusual for Nintendo. The company likes to announce games that are already pretty far in development and can be shown off easily, yet neither Metroid nor Pokemon had even some alpha status kind of screenshot or gameplay trailer. Nintendo finally understood that sometimes fans just want to know that the thing they are asking for is coming. Acknowledgement. It’s important.

 

…but will still not compete directly with SONY and Microsoft.

Nintendo is doing a lot right lately, which even got them some praise from 3rd parties. Still, the Switch – with it’s unusual premise – will not be able to compete directly with PS4 and XO. We will certainly see more and more 3rd party games coming to Switch as sales of the system continue to grow (especially from Japan where the Switch is the best selling gaming platform each week since its release) but developers will be very careful which game they will spend their ressources on. Games for Switch need to benefit from the portability so the ports will be reasonable sidesteps instead of unwanted steps backwards. Skyrim is the type of game that definitively makes sense because of all the content that can be leisurely be experienced on the go or at home (like Breath of the Wild). Call of Duty that you really need to focus on and get everything from its blockbuster audiovisual presentation? Not so much. Anthem with its online community focus and high quality graphics? Neither. And the problem is this: as Phil Spencer from Microsoft already mentioned more than once more and more games are planned as a service to keep players engaged and connected and monetized. The Switch is pretty much the opposite of that; sure: games like Mario Kart and ARMS (that I am planning to write a review for artsygamer on) are much less interesting when not played online, but they work great with local multiplayer as well which was one of the Switch’s design goals apart from being able to take it with you and play on the go.

 

For me, nothing has changed.

This year I am coming out of E3 just as I went in. Sure, new and exciting games like Wolfenstein II have been announced. But my gaming setup will not change. The Switch will still be my daily companion and primary platform for all games that are great to play on the go, the PS4 is still getting sweet AAA games exclusive to the platform and Microsoft is still trying to transform XBox to something that goes beyond being a hardware platform while still trying to keep the hardware relevant and competitive somehow. The biggest surprise to me was honestly how much fun Mario + Rabbids seems to be and that Ubisoft is able to deliver a good E3 show in general. Everything else I pretty much knew before. That means not many pleasant surprises. But that also means almost no unpleasant suprises as well. To me, that’s enough to be a good E3. But for next year, I want more again.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Review

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There a few genres nowadays that Nintendo still dominates like they used to in past century. The industry has grown a lot since back then and while most games from Nintendo still belong to the top of the crowd, there is one genre that they still dominate today like they did back since 1992: the fun racer. Although humble attempts at the genre like Crash Team Racing and Blur tried to break Nintendo‘s monopoly, the fun racing genre is till all about Mario Kart. A game series that started of brilliantly with Super Mario Kart and stayed on top of every eventual competition ever since because they never radically changed the formula although with every game there was some unique aspect like the two player on one cart mechanic from Double Dash or the motion controls added to Mario Kart 7 for the Wii. Now we’ve got Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the new Nintendo Switch which for the first time wasn’t built on top of the basic Mario Kart foundation but instead iterates on a complete game released on the WiiU in 2014.

 

 

So what did the Deluxe version change compared to the WiiU version? Well, the most communicated change was the addition of a bunch of real Battle Mode arenas that the WiiU version is lacking. It was the biggest complaint about the 2014 Mario Kart because the Battle Mode has been a core mode of the series ever since the SNES Super Mario Kart and while technically still existing in Mario Kart 8, it was clearly handled with a lower priority with no dedicated arenas and players instead driving around the standard race tracks of the game trying to pop each others balloons. For Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Nintendo did put in a bunch of real arenas specifically designed for this Switch release. The other big change is that players can now hold two items at once and some item containers now give two items when driving through them. I’ll discuss the implications of this change later, just let me tell you that while being a positive change in general it really drives the frustration factor in some places. Other than that, Nintendo has added some additional drivers but that’s about it.

 

Mario Kart 8 was a great game to begin with and as you would expect the Deluxe version starts high because of that. The art direction is what I would still call very strong, with great track designs and small details like face expressions of the characters when overtaking others or getting hit. Effects are being put to good use without ever getting in the player’s face and textures are underlining the overall aesthetic of the game fine. The Deluxe version received some technical improvements compared to the WiiU version though, most notably a true 1080p resolution and I am not sure if it’s because of that or if Nintendo also raised the texture resolution but the game looks better than its 2014 foundation. It also stays at a solid 60 frames per second when playing split screen with another person and drops to 30 frames when playing in 3 or 4 player split screen mode without sacrificing the 1080p. One thing that has to be mentioned again is just how great the soundtrack of this game is. It was praised back in 2014 for its quality and Nintendo luckily didn’t change a thing here.

 

 

Nintendo also added some control options, most notably the smart contols. Those will auto correct the driving of the player without the player really noticing it and it really helps to stay on track and just feel good playing Mario Kart. The only visible clue that a driver has enabled this helper mode is a little antenna coming out of the back. It won’t enable to let beginners play like a pro all of a sudden but it makes the game more accessible. The other options are auto accelerate and motion controls and with all three enabled Mario Kart 8 Deluxe can be controlled similarly to what was possible on Mario Kart 7 on the Wii or Mario Kart 8 on the WiiU, but it works much better!

In general Nintendo should be commended for all the options they put into Mario Kart 8 Deluxe but then again it shouldn’t be surprising that the company that was always on the forefront of intuitive gameplay and new control options is thinking about how to draw in new players while not putting off long time fans. The only change that I don’t really get is the missing YouTube export from the replay gallery. This was a very nice feature of the original Mario Kart 8 and it seems to be missing in the Deluxe edition. Maybe this is due to planned system wide video sharing functionality that Nintendo promised at the Switch reveal event but right now there is no way of getting your replays from Mario Kart 8 Deluxe to YouTube without additional hardware.

 

 

Teased before, let’s talk about the change in game mechanics with the dual item handling. I can see why this decision was made by Nintendo because it makes the game more interesting for beginners and gives them more opportunities to attack drivers in front of them, but it really raises the difficulty on the other end of the spektrum significantly. Mario Kart being sometimes brutal with the things that can come at you in the final round is a thing that exists since the introduction of the blue shell that will automatically hit the driver in the first place. But never before has it been this punishing, especially in the 200cc cups. See, in the slower cups, any perfect turn and every drift boost that you can get out is something the rest of the drivers will have a hard time catching up to because the speed of the vehicles is limited. Even with Mario Kart’s infamous rubberband AI, you can gain so much advantage that even bad luck won’t hold you back from taking that 1st place in the end. But as you enter higher cc cups, the reward for driving perfectly is less pronounced in gains but not driving perfectly is punished harder as it becomes more difficult to stay on the track.

 

200cc is a speed introduced as a free update for the original Mario Kart 8 and back then I didn’t spend a lot of time with it. At that time I had already unlocked everything and was comfortable with playing online (which is 100cc if I am not mistaken). But in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, you need to get at least the gold trophy in ever 200cc cup to unlock Gold-Mario; this is just a prestige thing, but a long-time Mario Kart player like me needs to have him, especially since every other driver is unlocked from the start (which is different from the WiiU Mario Kart 8 and – as I think – a good thing). I just got my last 200cc cup finished with a gold trophy and 3 stars (which means you need to finish every race in that cup 1st place) this morning and the journey towards that was brutal. 200cc needs you to learn a new facette of Mario Kart: braking. And by that I don’t mean hard braking before going into a turn, it is braking while drifting to reduce the drift radius on the fly so your speed will not vault you off the track. By the time I unlocked Gold-Mario I felt pretty confident in the art of brake-drifting but of course I wanted to have those 3 stars everywhere. And this is where the frustration began. Taking the first place in every 200cc race is not so much a matter of skill at some point but you need luck. A lot of luck sometimes.

 

 

I was struck by luck sometimes where I managed to finish some races 1st place after coming into the last turn as 8th place only to see that all 7 drivers before me had been hit by a blue shell explosion. But more often, I found myself driving perfect races only to have my blue shell destroying horn taken from my by a ghose powerup from a different driver and then get hit by a blue shell and 3 red shells just to come in second. Those are moments where the randomness of Mario Kart will not result in exhilerating enjoyment anymore but pure frustration due to the fact that every other driver now has double the chance to screw you over because of that changed gameplay mechanic. I want to stress though, that those frustrating moments don’t happen until you hit that skill ceiling and really start to go for that ultimate goal of having the perfect rating in every cup. If that’s what it takes to get more players into Mario Kart because its more enjoyable for them I think the change is a good one in the end after all.

 

It also works surprisingly well online where I didn’t have a feeling of “that’s much more chaotic than before” so far. Races pretty much feel the same they did with the original Mario Kart 8 which is probably due to the fact that the AI is somewhat working together against the player while actual players are more of lonely bastions only trying to fight for themselves. I onyl tried out the Battle Mode briefly online because I still need to improve a lot to be competitive there but it’s fast and fun and filled with enough different modes to feel fresh even after playing for 1 or 2 hours.

 

 

Conclusion: 4 (on a -5 to 5 scale). Let’s get it out of the way: if you have even the slightest interest in fun racing there is no way around Mario Kart, and if we’re at that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. It’s the best version of the best fun racing series that is available to date. If you already own Mario Kart 8 for the WiiU it might not be worth the full price (especially if you don’t want to play online anymore) but on the other hand you can eventually sell the WiiU disc and give yourself a decent discount for the Switch version. I hope that Nintendo will find a better way to balance out the random generator in a future installment and I don’t understand why the YouTube sharing function has been taken away from the replay mode. But other than that I feel like Nintendo has very little room left for improvement in future Mario Kart titles and I am curious what they will come up to differentiate the next Mario Kart from this great installment.

Yippie, soon it’s E3! Here are my Top 10 predictions…

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So E3 will take place in LA from June 13th to June 15th this year, but Microsoft will be kicking off the party actually on Sunday June 12th because as more and more companies are starting to have their press conferences and live events, shedules get pretty crowded. There is a German gamer community called Consolewars that I am pretty active on and they are doing some Bingo game every year where every user can pick 16 things that they believe will happen or won’t happen. Inspired by that, here are my Top 10 predictions for this year’s E3:

 

10. Microsoft’s Scorpio will be revealed
I know, that’s kind of a cheap one. Microsoft announced Project Scorpio at last year’s E3 and Digital Foundry already reported on the specs and what Scorpio will be able to do. But when I say revealed, I mean the actual machine, on stage, possibly running some games. We will see the design, get to know the real name and Microsoft will announce the release date and the price for its new console powerhouse. And because – as I mentioned – this one is kind of a cheap prediction, I am giving you a little bonus here: I think the price of the Scorpio will be either $499 or – if Microsoft is willing to take a loss to bump up sales – $449.

 

9. Microsoft’s new games
My next prediction revolves around the games that Microsoft will show off. Here are my predictions on 4 games that I think Microsoft will announce at least 2 of for the first time (so in dev stuff like Sea of Thieves doesn’t count): Forza 7, an exclusive Ninja Gaiden, time exclusive Borderlands 3, Fable Online, Knight of Aegis. Also I hope for another Ryse Son of Rome game (which I kind of liked, similarly to The Order 1886). And Microsoft needs to show Crackdown 3. It’s either completely different than what was announced years ago or it’s dead and burried. If it’s the later, bring on the sequel to Kameo Elements of Power and Panzer Dragoon! Returning already announced games will include Sea of Thieves and State of Decay 2.

 

8. Games at the SONY press conference
This prediction is about which games will be prominently shown at SONY’s press conference, and I am talking 3rd party here. I can already see 2 big ones with Resident Evil 2 Remake and Shenmue 3 [Shenmue 3 will not be at E3, confirmed by the dev team]. Destiny 2 will probably also be there with some SONY (time-)exclusive DLC announcements as well as Call of Duty WWII. The one I am not so sure about yet because it would make more sense to show off at Tokyo Game Show is the Final Fantasy VII Remake, but you’ll never know. Oh, and don’t forget that Death Stranding gameplay demo that Kojima will be presenting comfortably between the live demos of The Last of Us Chapter 2 and the new God of War game; because it’s time now. Seriously. Also – I know chances are slim, but: can I please get The Order 1887? I want to know how the story will proceed, how the characters will be developed.

 

7. Ubisoft
With the recent success of Ghost Recon Wildlands and For Honor, Ubisoft is in a strong position and I think Assassins Creed [CONFIRMED] and The Crew [CONFIRMED] will only be two of the existing franchises that will have a sequel announced this E3. Other than that though, I could imagine Ubisoft to either announce a new Watchdogs or a new Division Addon as well. Plus, I expect some Nintendo Switch games, but more on that within the Nintendo predictions. Oh, and FarCry 5 [CONFIRMED] in a kind of Wild West theme [modern Midwest? setting confirmed]. It’s a thing, believe!

 

6. EA
EA has – just like last year – its own event which happens to cross E3 again. The big title this year will probably be Battlefront 2, except for the inevitable new FIFA, Madden, NBA, etc. games. I think we will also see a new Need For Speed announced. But I don’t expect any major surprises from EA. Mass Effect Andromeda went kind of the wrong way, Titanfall 2 didn’t do well despite being critically acclaimed. A new Dragon Age could be announced though. And Medal of Honor is a franchise that’s sleeping for too long now, especially with a WWII Call of Duty coming this year.

 

5. Bethesda
Right before E3, the Morrowind addon for TESO will be released so I don’t expect any announcement there. New Skyrim versions for PS4, XO and Switch are coming this year so I wouldn’t hold my breath for a next Elder Scrolls announcement either. What we know will be coming is a new Multiplayer Quake, but I actually hope that a new Wolfenstein will be announced. I also expect The Evil Within 2 being announced as well as a DOOM singeplayer addon. I mean come on Bethesda, last year’s DOOM sold like hot cake and all we got with DLCs is multiplayer stuff that no one asked for. Got to milk that masterpiece!

 

4. Nintendo
So, after the Switch having a very successful launch and being still sold out in most places (expect to wait 3-4 weeks until you get one if you order now!), Nintendo needs to find a good balance between announcing games that are not too far off and keeping the 3DS platform alive for too long. There is a lot of stuff that Nintendo could announce this E3, and my predictions will be they are most likely some of these: Super Mario Maker for Switch, Super Smash Bros. for Switch, Bayonetta + Bayonetta 2 for Switch, a new Metroid game, the new game by Retro Studios (95 developers that haven’t announced or released a game since February 2014? They will show off something new) and the long time rumored Pokemon Stars. There will also be updates for Super Mario Odysee and Xenoblade 2 but more importantly, I expect at least one exclusive game from Ubisoft (probably the rumored Mario Rabbids crossover [kind of CONFIRMED] and not Zombi 2) as well a Monster Hunter Switch announcement from Capcom [already happened: Monster Hunter XX]. I could also imagine Capcom to be porting either Resident Evil 7 or the Resident Evil 2 Remake to Switch, since they told everyone they were porting the RE Engine to Switch pretty early on. Nintendo will also need to finally disclose some of their plans regarding online service and virtual console.

 

3. What we won’t see
This one makes me sad, but here is what I don’t think we will see: Bloodborne 2, a new F-Zero game, a new Halo game, a Scalebound reboot, a new Syphon Filter, Kevin Butler returning on the SONY E3 stage, a From Software game announcement for Nintendo Switch, a new Diddy Kong racing, a really exciting game announcement from Konami and Mafia 4 (it’s too early, even though Mafia 3 sold extremely well). And Resident Evil 8. I think that announcement’s another year off. Also that return of SEGA as a console manufacturer is not coming. I wish this wasn’t true, but (again) no Dreamcast 2.

 

2. Unpleasant returns
I think there will be two returning franchises that will get an announcement in such a way that most gamers rather would have no announcement at all: Metal Gear Solid and Just Dance.

 

1. Winner of E3 2017
I don’t think there will be a clear winner company wise. I expect SONY to have the best show in terms of show setup and pacing, I expect Nintendo to have a great return to the playing field as a real contender against SONY and Microsoft and Microsoft has the advantage of having new gaming hardware to show and accompany it with new stuff which is always exciting. The true winners of E3 will be us, the gamers. Be excited!

Ready to make the Switch?

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Ever since the WiiU’s fate was sealed, gaming enthusiasts wondered what the next Nintendo console would be like. Would there even be a next home console from Nintendo? A bunch of patents suggested a hybrid between home- and portable console while others showed new gimmicks. When Nintendo then showed of their new console Switch – formerly known as NX – the main feature was immediately understood by everyone. This was very different from the revelation of the WiiU which even more seasoned gamers didn’t understand at first.

The console was released March 3rd this year for $299/€330 and has been a huge success since. It’s still not in stock at Amazon and other big retailers but you might ask yourself if this new thing from Nintendo is for you. I’ve been using the Switch since launch (a bit over 6 weeks at the time of writing) and will now try to tell you if you’re ready to make the switch.

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If you don’t know what the Switch is, Nintendo explains the Switch like this: the Switch is Nintendo’s new home console, that attempts to make the “home” part optional by giving you the opportunity of taking it with you, wheter you want to play it in your garden, in your bed or on the train. Many people will probably describe the Switch as a handheld console with a docking station to play your games on the TV. The truth is: it is neither one, nor the other.

The difference between the Switch and something like the 3DS or even the PlayStation Vita is the hardware power of the console and the way its makers are going to support it. While 3DS and Vita most of the time got the low-fi games of the best selling franchises the Switch will be Nintendo’s flagship device. As such Nintendo put more power in it than it would have in a regular handheld and it also renounced features like Streetpass that were prominently put in their 3DS devices for the past 6 years.

But the Switch is also not your typical next gen console. To even have a chance of being portable, Nintendo’s engineers had to find a partner to supply them with relatively powerful but small CPU and GPU hardware that would also be easy to program for and be as battery friendly as possible. It found that partner with NVidia which provides a custom Tegra SoC. It’s a powerful chipset – at least 2 times as powerful than what the WiiU is with room for further improvement if early adopter developers are to be trusted – but compared to the PS4 and XO ports will probably need to be noticeably downgraded in asset quality to run well. Some are calling Nintendo out for daylight robbery because of its hardware power and price, but there is one important point that often gets forgotten: form factor. Being a console that you can take on the go the Switch is hardly 1/6 of the WiiU’s size and circa 1/25 the size of a PS4 Pro.

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The picture above shows the PS4 Pro, WiiU and Switch and shows the huge difference in size. This is of course because the Switch can be taken anywhere (a proper case is recommended) and this works beautifully. The Switch has accompanied me almost every time I left the house in the past 6 weeks (except for some jogging workout and visits at the barber because I know I never have to wait long) and I have played games like Breath of the Wild (find my review of it on artsygamer as well), Shovel Knight, Binding of Isaac and others; let me tell you this: I don’t want to take a train ride without the Switch ever again.

The JoyCon controllers work fine for me most of the time, especially using them detached from the Switch is an amazing feeling for me; something that other people might have to get used to admittedly. They can’t compete with the Pro controller though which might very well be the best gamepad I have used so far (disclaimer: I didn’t get the chance to play with the XBox One Pro Controller so far), save for the shoulder triggers which sadly are digital triggers; it would have been difficult to put analogue triggers on the JoyCons – I get it; it would have been a nice feature for racing games nevertheless.

Battery runtime is another important topic as well for portability and I am happy to report that mixing games I get 5 hours out of the Switch most of the time. While this may seem little compared to the 3DS, it actually is close to my experience with the PlayStation Vita’s battery life and somewhat remarkable compared to the battery runtime of smartphones when doing some non-stop gaming. Luckily Nintendo uses a USB type C on the Switch which allows for some cheap battery pack setups that will prolong the Switch’s life on the go easily to something around 8 to 12 hours. I have an emergency battery pack in my bag all the time (mainly because smartphones and friends who may need a quick recharge on the go) but so far never had to use it on my Switch.

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I don’t want to conceal some caveats I have with the system however. The first thing is the system’s management of space and how it doesn’t allow the user to control it. The system’s internal space is 32GB and of course not all of it is useable. The Switch can handle Micro SD cards however which means you can expand the memory by 128GB for as low as €35 (even lower if you access speed is no concern for you). But the way the Switch handles storage is annoying. If there is not Micro SD card present, the system defaults to its internal storage of course. If a Micro SD card is present, the system defaults to the Micro SD card as long as there is space. And the user has no option to transfer data from one to the other. Most of the time this is just fine but if – for example – you want to take advantage of the faster internal storage for a game like Zelda, you need to take out your Micros SD card to force Zelda to download on the system’s memory and then insert the SD card back into the system. I haven’t tried out yet how the save files are created. Of course you’ll want them on a Micro SD card because you can just backup the encrypted data on your PC, but as with the games themselfes the save data can also not be transferred between SD card and device. This means if your Switch breaks your savegames might all be lost. And since there is no cloud saving yet (more on that later) the same goes for a lost or stolen Switch.

There are also no Video On Demand service apps like Amazon or Netflix on the device yet. Reggie Fils Aime told the press that they wanted to focus on getting out a great gaming device first and that apps for the large services will come later so it doesn’t bother me too much. But in the first 4 weeks after the Switch’s release when I was roaming the wild lands of Hyrule, the only reason I turned on other consoles at all was to watch some Netflix or Amazon on them because I couldn’t on the Switch. I also think apps that allow you to download some content and then watch it on the go would be a huge boon for the Switch.

And the last point on my list is all about Nintendo’s upcoming online services. With the Switch, Nintendo will be the last console manufacturer to join the “pay for our online service”-service providers. Currently all online functionality is still free while Nintendo is seemingly still figuring out what the paid service will offer exactly and how much they will charge for it. From my experience, online gaming works pretty good so far with low latency and reasonably fast matchmaking but other than Fast RMX and the Splatoon Testfire Beta there was not much to test so far anyway. April 28th will see the release of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe which will be the first huge multiplayer title to really stress the Nintendo Network for Switch. It should hold up though since Nintendo is using Amazon’s cloud infrastructure which offers high performance and scalability. A bigger questionmark has to be put behind the free retro game offerings and additional features like cloud gamesaves. Nintendo’s plans for voice chat by smartphone app have already been dissed by a lot of players and we will need to wait what and how Nintendo will show and offer.

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Conclusions: the Nintendo Switch is a device that I don’t want to miss anymore. It is not only the logical step to take for a company that needs to break away from the WiiU’s failure but also a major step forward in respect of product design and feature balance. But it’s also a device that will clearly see a lot of improvement in software short- and mid-term and probably new revisions and price cuts mid- and long-term. If you want a rating, here’s my formula for you to find out:

1. How much do you want to have a unique and new gaming hardware on a scale from -1 to 1?
2. How important is it to you being able to seamlessly switch between mobile and living room gaming on a scale from -2 to 2? -2 would be someone who is only interested in playing high profile games on their 4k TV on the sofa, 2 would be someone who is on the train every day and would love to spend more time with gaming that way.
3. How important are Nintendo games to you on a -2 to 2 scale? 2 would be someone who played Nintendo games for a long time and can’t imagine a gamer existence without them, -2 would be someone who avoids Nintendo games on every occasion.

Add the scores up and you have your personal conclusion (kind of) :) I hope you liked my impressions of the Switch, I will of course try to answer any questions in the comments. I would also love to know the score you’re coming up for the Switch.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – Review

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With The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nintendo has done something absolutely incredible and amazing. And after more than 70 hours and beating the main story of the game, I am still not quite sure how they did it.

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I was never a fan of the 3D Zelda games. Even Ocarina of Time was not able to keep me interested throughout the whole game back in 1998; something that is still true to this day. I also don’t like open world games that much. So what were the chances of me even liking Breath of the Wild? Yet here I am trying to convey the brilliance of a masterpiece to you without even realizing the full spectrum of it myself.

For the longest time, Nintendo has been infamous for ignoring most of the industry’s achievements and instead focusing on itself. This has been true since Nintendo entered the US market in 1985: 2 years after the breakdown of the game industry, nobody wanted to get into videogames; except for Nintendo, which was able to resuscitate a dead industry with games like Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda. Decades later, their ignorance of the HDTVs and after the failures of the Nintendo 64 and the GameCube, which not only lost the market leadership to the less powerful PlayStation and PlayStation 2 from SONY but also struggled against the industry newcomer from Redmond, led Nintendo to the Wii. This time, it was the company itself that rose out of the ashes like a phoenix. But it wasn’t so much the games defining the success but rather the movement control technology. Nintendo, assured that their ignorance of the rest of the industry would led them to new innovations and even bigger success then went on to present the WiiU. A critical failure that started a transformation of this industry heavyweight leading to many improvements in the way Nintendo developed and develops their businesses and Breath of the Wild is one of the products reflecting this transformation.

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Breath of the Wild is influenced by many games with more or less open worlds. Aonuma himself explained in interviews that many of the younger designers at Nintendo play a lot of games from other companies and the influences for Breath of the Wild include Minecraft, later Far Cry games, Assassins Creed, Skyrim and the Souls‘ games. But rather than just taking bits and pieces out of those games and throwing them together, Nintendo assessed and transformed them; and by doing that it created something that isn’t afraid to let the player roam free, explore everything that it has to offer and experimenting with crazy ideas that – and this is to the game design’s credit as well – most of the time work out as the player expects.

The first striking thing about Breath of the Wild is its pace in the beginning hours. You wake up, you get your Shieka slate and then you’re sent to the entry of the crypt in which you were sleeping for over 100 years. To leave the crypt, you have to climb and it’s there where the game for the first time introduces a mechanic that we have all seen in other games before but never so well implemented and put to such good use as in Breath of the Wild‘s kingdom of Hyrule. The whole introduction to the player’s toolset takes about 2 hours in which you acquire the Shieka slate‘s different powers, learn how to protect you from environmental hazards and how to use the game’s manifold system’s to ambush enemies and create paths to places formerly unreachable; or you skip all of that. Although the game is never shy to show you how useful certain objects or skills are, it also rarely forces its systems onto the player with the exception of the weather system – but more about that later. This leads to playthroughs in which players travel all the way to the final boss only equipped with sticks and apples. Having beaten the game’s final boss I can’t imagine this to be much fun but I also didn’t complete even 30% of the whole game so maybe the time will come when I have completely mastered this game and am in such a dire need for one last challenge that I will try to save Hyrule with nothing more than my boxershorts and twigs. The game would let me do it and this feels empowering. Not only for a Nintendo game but in general.

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The story seems to be your run-of-the-mill Zelda story at first: rescue the princess, defeat Ganon, defend Hyrule. And while all of this is true, the way it is presented this time adds much more to the mix than what we got in previous Zelda games at least to my knowledge. I don’t want to spoil any major plot points, but if you follow the story as closely as possible, you’ll see that this Zelda‘s story is not only about a boy saving a kingdom. It’s about a group of heroes that trained their whole lifes to defeat the most dangerous menace glooming over their homelands only to fail miserably. It’s a story about self-doubt, hidden love, rivalry between comrades and recrimination. There is a hidden warning of technologic progress for progress’ sake and a hint at sex discrimination. All of that could have been carved out more for an even bigger impact, but it is there for the player to discover as well as the ruins scattered throughout the world telling tales about that day 100 years ago when the heroes failed their mission.

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The gameplay emerges from a complex system of cause and effect. The player can discover a broad range of tools to manipulate wind, use fire, create ice, move iron objects magnetically, cause explosions and even freeze objects and enemies for a short time in which every kinetic energy will be preserved and unleashed as soon as the freeze ends. One can swirl smaller enemies through the air the same way a sailing raft can be forced to move. Use bombs to unveil caverns with treasures or even shrines in it or use them to log trees or even do some dynamite fishing. Lay an ambush by setting dry grass on fire so the wind will led it to circle the enemy group. The game lets you play freely with its systems most of the time but uses one way to remind you that this is still a wild land that can never be tamed completely: through its weather system.

Breath of the Wild‘s weather system needs and deserves its own mention here because it is something that players need to keep in mind when planning their activities. The most brutal way the weather system can rain on one’s parade is if the player plans to do some abitious climbing. Climbing will drain your stamina and once the stamina is used up, Link will faill to the ground like a rock attached to an iron ball. When it’s raining, surfaces will become slippery which will change climbing in two ways: first, more stamina is used for climbing; second, there is a chance of slipping, causing the player to lose some of the distance covered. It can be brutal and will teach you to always keep an eye on the weather forecast when planning to do some extensive climbing. Apart from simple rain, there are also heavy storms with lightning and thunder and those can wreak havoc if one is not careful. You should stay away from trees, ideally get some cover and you should unequip every weapon, bow and shield made from iron if you don’t want your gravestone to tell people you’ve been struck by lightning. On the other hand, a metal weapon thrown into a group of enemies can yield some nice and fast results and I managed to wipe out a camp of enemies more than once by throwing a metal blade towards an explosive barrel at the right time. I could go on and on about mechanics as an enabler of player freedom but I would probably never finish this review. Just know that this game is filled to the brim with options and possibilities to roam the land, fight enemies and discover (NPCs for example follow their own agenda and meeting some of them at the right place at the right time may lead to something unexpected).

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For all the game throws at the player though, it’s also forgiving and supportive. It lets the player pause on all occasions to consume some food for regaining health or stamina and the progress can be saved everywhere (although loading a saved game in a shrine will set you back to the shrine’s entry but your progress will still be saved). There are 120 shrines and beating 4 of them will give you the option to either increase your health or your your stamina. You can also find 900 so called Korok seeds that will enable you to increase your weapon, shield and bow storage. You can find and buy different outfits that provide special perks like letting you swim or climb longer (both activities use up your stamina), increase your attack power or letting you sneak up to enemies faster so you can use the backstab mechanic of the game more often. The game really does a great job to support different play styles and encourage the player to try them out, but it never forces the player to.

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Technically this game is a very nice sendoff for the ill-fated WiiU. But we’re living in a Switch world now and this is also the platform I (and most other) play this game on. The elephant in the room is of course the hardware power that a device like the Switch can provide compared to the PS4 and XBox One. Let’s get it out of the way: this game is neither Rise of the Tomb Raider, nor is it Horizon and it was never going to be. Still, with clever use of a pastel-inspired artstyle and an art direction that focuses on the vastness of Hyrule the game regularly managed to make my jaw drop. Climbing a cliff only for the camera to rise above the cliff’s edge and reveal miles of woods and mountains is just one of the occasions where Breath of Wild made me lose myself completely in the game world. Effects for lightning and fire are also put to great use and the way this game visually supports the underlying ruleset of the game world is top notch. The only issue I had with the game were occasional framedrops in places where you wouldn’t expect them. Since the Switch is supposed to be much more powerful than its predecessor I expected a bit more than just a bump from 720p to 900p in docked mode with slightly better but still not perfect performance. Nintendo already released a first patch that significantly improves performance and since there is DLC coming for Breath of the Wild this will hopefully not be the last performance increase we see for the game. Whenever performance was important to the gameplay however, the game delivered so framedrops never affected my enjoyment of the game.

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Conclusions: 5 (on a -5 to 5 scale). Scoring this game has been the most difficult part of this review. Breath of the Wild is not a perfect game, but no game will ever be. On a -50 to 50 scale, I’d probably rate it 48 but that is not possible on a -5 to 5 scale. Apart from the score, to me this game is a masterpiece of exploration, empowerment and option. I enjoyed all the time I spent with the game so far and I am looking forward to finding more shrines and secrets and I am curious what interesting things Nintendo will do with the DLC. I mentioned that Breath of the Wild is a reflection of Nintendo‘s current transformation, a transformation that hopefully is all but finished. When the credits of a game roll, I usually try to catch the names of people who – in my opinion – did a very good job as well as people who did a very bad job; you could say I try to channel my admiration and aversion during the credits. When the credits of Breath of the Wild rolled, I wanted to shake the hand of each and every member of the development team and bow to them. It truly is one of the best games ever made.

NieR Automata (PC/PS4)

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As a fan of Platinum Games this game was a day-1-purchase for me. Unfortunately the PC version’s got some problems with the AMD RX400 series right now (when using a newer driver) so I can’t play it yet. A shame, because the game seems to be as good as I hoped it would be (at least the devs announced today that they are working on the issues).

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